In some ways, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011, seemed a bit anticlimactic for a historic day in gay and lesbian history. Yes there were parties, yes there were news stories, yes there were many coming-outs, all in response to the long-awaited and long-delayed end of ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” But the drawn out nature of repeal — legislation, review, consultation, waiting — stretched out the victory over weeks and months.
No matter, though, as the final fall of DADT is a moment deserving of jubilation — hence the more celebratory approach of our cover this week, taken just after midnight on Tuesday at the Servicemembers United countdown to repeal party. As a community, our victories are often smaller or limited to certain parts of the nation — marriage equality in a handful of states, but anti-gay amendments in many others; job protections in some cities, hostile environments elsewhere. But the repeal of DADT is an across-the-board victory, the end of a law that specifically defined gay, lesbian and bisexual people as second-class citizens and targeted them for government-sanctioned discrimination.
Some have already noted that the end of DADT isn’t truly the end of the issue. There remain significant concerns about the lack of nondiscrimination policies in the military, and how the Pentagon will deal with discrimination within the ranks. With humans being humans, there will be cases of discrimination — reason enough to stay alert. And while DADT only targeted sexual orientation, not gender identity, the issue of transgender service is moving to the fore as it should, particularly after transgender veterans put their own valiant efforts into the pursuit of repeal.
We also can’t forget the anti-gay forces who fought to keep DADT to the bitter end. Their histrionics over gay and lesbian soldiers would be humorous if the hatred underlying them were not so real. Unable to stop a repeal supported by such large majorities of Americans, anti-gay activists will be searching for any slip-up, any moment to seize and screech, ”We told you so!” Most gay servicemembers, like their straight counterparts, will serve with honor and integrity while some tiny number will not. It’s unfair that they will be held in some ways to higher standards, but that’s one of the burdens that comes with a newfound equality. Based on the courage and dedication of gay and lesbian servicemembers I’ve seen throughout nearly two decades of DADT, I’m certain they’ll shoulder the burden well and ease the way for the generations to follow.
Achieving official equality in military service has been one of the cornerstones of the LGBT civil rights movement. With the goal met, it’s imperative to look at the other cornerstones of the movement, such as marriage and employment discrimination. All of these issues have helped promote the others — growing support among straight Americans for open service has undoubtedly led to greater comfort with LGBT people in the civilian world. We can and should celebrate a victory, but we also need to find ways to build on that victory to bring full equality to every LGBT person.
There may be no time for rest, but there is some for reflection. And also for congratulations to gay and lesbian American servicemembers around the globe who now live and work in a new and better world.